The Red Violin is a story about the three-hundred journey of an instrument as it travels the world and passes from owner to owner. Strangely enough, director François Girard actually pulls it off. He has turned what seems like a hopelessly boring project into a beautiful and rich film.
The best part about this movie is its irregularities. The Red Violin takes extreme allowances in its chronological presentation, as the movie may flash back on the same scene several times. The first time the movie returned to the auction I was caught off guard and wondered if the disc had skipped back to an earlier moment. The movie also moves back to a fortune teller who predicts the violin's future, even though she thinks she is predicting the future of a pregnant woman. At other times, there are momentary flashbacks to various scenes in the film, especially towards the end where the Red Violin is falling into modern times. The second allowance is the lack of any main characters. Not only are there no big stars, which exception to Samuel L. Jackson, but there are no characters that remain through the entirety of the movie. Again, Jackson's character is there the whole time, but only in between flashbacks. The violin is the only "character" that ties the movie together, and that's what makes it so interesting.
The violin starts out in the late Renaissance times and then passes on to an orphan boy. After the boy it goes to a group of gypsies, than to a composer, and then overseas to a Chinese pawn shop. It ends up almost being destroyed by Chinese Communists before falling into the hands of Jackson, an antique professional. No matter which time period the director films, the product looks excellent. The powerful soundtrack controls the film and the subtle camera work is easy on the eye. Each time period reflects itself, especially in Communist China where the Reds are trying to rid themselves of Western influence. The most shocking segment of the film is near the end where the film goes more in depth into the creation of the violin.
The Red Violin is a little slow at times but is never really boring. Something is always happening, no matter how subtle. I also wonder what this movie would be like without Jackson. He does a terrific job and his star power probably gave The Red Violin some notice, but at the same time he is the only standout actor in the entire movie. Even though he has no bearing on most of the movie, it seems that his star essence steals the show.
An absolutely terrific soundtrack, beautiful direction, and a original idea make The Red Violin one of 1999's most standout movies.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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